Hutcherson Tribute Celebrates Vibraphonist’s Brilliance, Warmth

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Billy Childs (at piano, left), Hubert Laws, Matt Penman and Peter Erskine perform during a tribute to the late Bobby Hutcherson at SFJAZZ on Oct. 23.

(Photo: Scott Chernis)

Throughout the night, Hutcherson could be seen in snapshots with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Mulgrew Miller, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Clint Eastwood. There was even a photo of him posing with shovel in hand at the SFJAZZ Center’s groundbreaking ceremony—a reminder of his deep ties to a venue that has a dressing room christened in his honor.

Saxophonist Gary Bartz performed “Si Tu Vois Ma Màre (If You See My Mother)” solo on sopranino before bringing out McCoy Tyner, Hutcherson’s longtime friend and two-time Blue Note label-mate, for a solo piano piece. Their set concluded with a spirited duet on the Tyner standard “Blues On The Corner.”

A man of many titles (including owner and operator of the much missed Keystone Korner club in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood), Todd Barkan recited an original poem he’d written in memory of his longtime friend before introducing The Cookers, who were a surprise addition.

With pianist Billy Childs substituting for Cables, the incendiary septet (which included Hutcherson comrades Eddie Henderson on trumpet and Billy Hart on drums) offered up tenor saxophonist Billy Harper’s own “Croquet Ballet,” then segued effortlessly into Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core.”

Organist Joey DeFrancesco conveyed how he had met Hutcherson about 17 years ago but felt like he had known him all his life. He, Wolf, Hart and flutist Hubert Laws tackled “Take The Coltrane” before an organ-drums duo exploration of “My Foolish Heart,” which served a master class in dynamics.

Laws returned with Childs, Penman and drummer Peter Erskine for Hutcherson’s “Herzog,” which was the opening track to his 1968 Blue Note album, Total Eclipse, with pianist and band-leading partner Harold Land (1928–2001). “Peace Maker,” by Land himself, followed.

The penultimate live performance was performed by Hutcherson’s last West Coast Band, featuring guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Glenn Richman and Hutcherson’s son Barry on drums.

Multi-instrumentalist Roger Glenn took up the vibraphone role, and Hutcherson’s associate and fellow longtime Bay Area resident John Handy played tenor saxophone. The group’s performance of “There Will Never Be Another You” reflected the sentiment of those in the house and backstage.

Accompanied by pianist Joe Gilman, locally based vocalist Paula West concluded the concert the same way she did at Hutcherson’s memorial service on Aug. 31: with a pathos-filled take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”

As many cited, the song’s title was a defining characteristic of Hutcherson’s uplifting presence, whether it was a friendly grin or the sparkle in his eyes.

The memorial tribute, which lasted nearly two and a half hours, officially closed with a video of Hutcherson. Filmed in high-definition at his home in coastal Montara, he took a solo four-mallet approach to “I’ll Be Seeing You” followed by a brief a cappella vocal version. It served as a benediction—and perhaps a promise—for an inspirational service.

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